Collection of signatures for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) referendum Bill is scheduled to begin this week, setting in motion a series of events that will culminate in a referendum next year.
Yesterday, ODM leader Raila Odinga met governors from Nyanza and Western regions at the Ciala Resort in Kisumu where he rallied them to support the document and ruled out opening it for further input.
His sentiments were yet another clear indicator that the door on those calling for the accommodation of more views, led by Deputy President William Ruto, his allies and a section of religious leaders, had been shut.
“The first phase of the BBI process gives way to the next, that is the collection of signatures. I consulted with leaders from Western Kenya in Kisumu County. They gave their unreserved approval and expressed readiness for its kick-off,” Raila posted on his twitter handle after the meeting.
Addressing the Press at the resort yesterday, the ODM leader called on those opposed to the document to meet those supporting it at the ballot.
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“Let us go to the people, let the people decide by democratically expressing their views. I am sure Kenyans will decide by making a good decision that favours them,” he said.
Sources say President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila will on Thursday launch the collection of signatures at Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi. The leaders are also expected to unveil a committee that will be tasked to spearhead the process.
Reliable sources told The Standard that Uhuru and Raila will use the Thursday event to unveil a referendum team that consists of Suna East MP Junet Mohammed and former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru as co-chairs. Kisii Woman Representative Janet Ong’era and Sarah Kilemi will head the referendum secretariat.
Despite shutting the door on more changes, insiders said the views presented by the women and pastoralist community will be considered when drafting the final Bill.
After collecting the signatures from across the country, the list will be taken to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission for verification. It will then go to the County Assemblies where 24 of them are required to approve the Bill.
Thereafter, it will go to the National Assembly and the Senate for approval before Uhuru assents to it to become law, if Kenyans vote for it during the referendum.
Yesterday, Raila downplayed claims that the BBI will result into the creation of an imperial presidency as he dared those opposing the initiative to meet its proponents at the ballot. The ODM leader noted that the anti-BBI brigade are opposing the document for the sake of it and do not have any fundamental reasons to do so.
He said critics of the process were given an opportunity to share the areas they feel should be amended in the report, but failed to do so. Accompanied by Cabinet Secretaries Fred Matiang’i (Interior) and Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution) together with a host of governors from the region, Raila told off critics of the BBI report, accusing them of spreading propaganda to mislead the public.
He said critics who have recently cautioned Kenyans against supporting the initiative saying they have reservations about an imperial presidency, a bloated Parliament and a conflicted electoral commission under the BBI report were out to mislead Kenyans.
“I have been very much part of the struggle for reforms and change and will never be a party to any amendment that will recreate an imperial presidency,” the ODM leader said.
He also sought to clarify the controversies surrounding the creation of the Judiciary Ombudsman, adding that it will not interfere with the independence of the Judiciary. He explained that the Ombudsman will only be picked by the president after a well-guided process that will see several suitable candidates vetted by Parliament.
“Kenyans will for once have a place to channel their grievances against judges if any need arises. This is where Kenyans will go and raise their complaints. I don’t know how that interferes with the independence of Judiciary,” he said.
Yesterday’s meeting was the first to be convened by Raila since the launch of the BBI report.
The governors who attended the meeting were Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu), Cornel Rasanga (Siaya), James Ongwae (Kisii), Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Wilbur Ottichilo (Vihiga), Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) and Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia).
Before they addressed journalists, the leaders held a closed-door meeting. A source at the meeting said Raila rallied the governors to prepare their troops to back the document in order to ensure that the planned collection of signatures is seamless.
Khaemba, who read a report from the meeting, said the regional governors have agreed to rally their troops to back the process.
“We must not be caught in the game of hypocrisy and delaying tactics being played by our critics and we must be ready to append our signatures and meet our opponents,” he said.
Oparanya said they will now take the BBI seriously even after suspension of rallies.
“This is a document that we see will move Kenya from a third world country to a developed one. We are here to recommit ourselves to this document and as Council of Governors we have already looked at the document keenly and I can tell Kenyans that this will be a productive initiative,” he said.
Speaking at the sidelines of the meeting, Junet, also the National Assembly Minority Whip, said collection of signatures was set to commence this week after it is launched on Thursday.
He said they have come up with 18 units across the country, with governors set to drive the push for signatures and campaigns.
In Nyanza, former MP Jakoyo Midiwo and Bob Madanje, the head of protocol at the Kisumu County Government, will be teaming up with Nyong’o as Timothy Bosire and Patrick Lumumba combine forces with Ongwae in Kisii.
“For the Western and Nyanza regions, we will be having offices in Kisumu, Kakamega and Kisii where their respective governors are expected to lead their teams in ensuring that the president and former PM’s commitment to this project that seeks to unite the country is successful,” Junet said.
Matiang’i, who represented Uhuru at yesterday’s meeting, said the process is now unstoppable.
MPs allied to Ruto, however, slammed the move to proceed with signature collection without accommodation of divergent views. Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said it was unfortunate that the plan to subject the document to a referendum had started even before Kenyans read and understood it.
“Why the hurry, intimidation and blackmail on this process? It looks mischievous,” he said.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said the document should be about the people and not the leaders pushing for it.
[Report by Washington Onyango, Harold Odhiambo, Protus Onyango and Rawlings Otieno]